Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Tortillas Moment


As co-owner Charlie Kerns explains: "The burrito war has been fought and won. We didn't win it."

Kerns says that while Tortillas still does enough business to remain open indefinitely, he wanted to retire his labor of love before it slips too far into decline.

"Sometimes things look better in the rear-view mirror," he says.

~Creative Loafing, April 23, 2003

Photo courtesy of Bell Street Burritos, who shows there is still some goodness in the world

In Which I Hate On Everyone


My dreams are all dead and buried
Sometimes I wish the world would just explode
When God comes and calls me to his kingdom
I'll take all you sonsabitches when I go
~Billy Joe Shaver

It is time to assess.

The Blogs - Let us take a look around the landscape.

Despite allegations of taking the occasional cash handshake to write positive stories, despite having to issue a retraction for a story practically invented out of thin air, Andre Walker continues to be referenced by media, enjoys privileges at one of the largest national Democratic blogs and continues to spin his stories of Democratic Party of Georgia goings-on. And he is "taken seriously" because of his "insider status". So much for consequences.

If you want rumor mongering and ego mania, look no further than Peach Pundit. It has always been the place for juicy tidbits and Erick Erickson's personal witch hunts, but with the Republican scandals of last fall, they felt the need to step it up a bit. Erick all but provided the gory details of the most famous rumor in Georgia Politics, then spent several days squealing about love children and opening the sewer pipes to allow every green apple splat squishing around the marble halls to spew forth. Privately, some journalists admonished bloggers about "editorial choices", but publicly, their publications continued to direct readers to Erick's filthy playpen and tell them to take it "seriously". So much for standards.

Of course, there are always those who would stand at the vanguard of the garbage wave. As Georgia Liberal did when it tut tutted the new cooperative of media services in the state. They digitally wagged their fingers at the stodgy journalists of the Athens Banner-Herald for not understanding doom was inevitable. Then, promptly went back to re-publishing someone else's copyrighted cartoons. So much for self-awareness.

Then, there's Jeff Sexton of SWGAPolitics. Not satisfied with accusing a sitting Constitutional officer of running a criminal enterprise, Jeff set his sights on another target. And we must give credit where credit is due, he broke the biggest story ever uncovered by a Georgia blog. If only the story stopped there. He proceeded to come as close to libel as any blog ever by calling someone a "child molestor" and quoting a section of law which did not apply. But it's hard to stop a steam train of ego. When told of his mistake, he refused to correct the blatantly false statement. Later, when asked why he hadn't given the accused a chance to respond, he replied "I don't play fair with child molestors". So much for fairness.

Over two years ago, the Athens Banner-Herald's Blake Aued said,
When y’all start doing your own reporting, rather than rely on rumors, press releases and the dreaded MSM, then you can call yourselves journalists
He should be a prophet.

The Press - For almost three years, we begged them to link to us. We were told we were rumor mongers. We were told we didn't have editorial standards. We were told we couldn't be trusted. We were told we were "entertainers".

But that dam was never going to last forever. And what happened when the deluge finally settled onto the land? The turds floated to the top.

Start with a reporter linking to a story without taking the time to research if the author has any history of legitmacy, continue swimming through the sewage by linking to every rumor to swirl out of an "insider" site and culminate by being accomplices in a political stunt that three years ago would have barely mentioned a whisper.

Leave it to Peach Pundit to take a he said/she said story about a candidate throwing a tantrum over being excluded from a cocktail hour, declaratively state that it was really racism, then stand back and see who willingly runs into the shit bomb. (By the way boys, how many bought drinks are required at one of your little soirees to get that kind of good consulting?)

Of course, it was our new friends in the media who immediately sprinted towards the fire without pausing to notice the dirty diaper underneath. By the end of the sordid affair, Miss Political Stunt had four days of positive free press.

Welcome to the year of jubilee. They link to us. Well, they link to some while ignoring others. All depends on who's tidbits are the juiciest and reality be damned.

In other words, they act just like bloggers.

The Quotes -
Look, I’m not blind to the yeoman’s work done by a handful of “citizen journalists.” But can anyone provide me examples of a major local story that was broken by a blogger — one with no previous journalistic experience? ~ATLMalcontent, March 15, 2009

It is up to each blog to determine its standards for publication. ~griftdrift, July 30, 2008
We were both right. We were both wrong. So be it.

The Best Of The Drifts - Why Facts No Longer Matter

Originally published Dec 21, 2009 (I highly encourage you to click through because the comments are much more interesting than the original essay)

The Evolution Of How They See Us

"I'm not a journalist". It is the karmic shield Erick Erickson uses to defend his continued spew of rumor and innuendo. Rumor? Good enough if it matches the agenda. Verification? Why bother. Consequences? What's that.

And why should he bother? His methods seem to work in his favor.

Time to update the timeline:

February 2007 - Georgia Public Broadcasting's Susanne Capaluto states she would never quote a blogger.

June 2007 - Athens Banner Herald editor Jim Thompson declares mainstream's use of real names creates credibility

December 2007 - Athens Banner Herald's Blake Aued says "When y’all start doing your own reporting, rather than rely on rumors, press releases and the dreaded MSM, then you can call yourselves journalists"

July 2008 - Creative Loafing Editor Ken Edelstein questions how anyone can trust an anonymous blogger

April 2009 - Athens Banner Herald editor Jim Thompson says "In the end, then, whatever the media platform, what it means to be a journalist today is what it always has meant...It's not a matter of training...It's a matter of trust"

May 2009 - For the first time, the Atlanta Journal Constitution links to a non-professional non-political local blog - DecaturMetro

June 2009 - The AJC links without attribution to...TMZ

July 2009 - Jim Galloway comes to the stunning conclusion that Peach Pundit is not a journalistic outfit. Also, the first time "Erick Erickson does not consider himself a journalist" appears in print.

August 2009 - That stunning revelation does not prevent Galloway from linking to a Peach Pundit story about a "Draft Jane Kiddman" website. Despite the author's notoriety as a hyperbolic troublemaker and Jim's own recent discovery that Peach Pundit was not 'journalistic", the top political reporter in the state says the story should be "taken seriously".

December 2009 - With little possibility of verification, Erick publishes lurid details of an alleged affair involving the Lt. Governor of the state of Georgia. No sources. No evidence. Just what he's heard.

Less than two weeks later - Peach Pundit is called a must read by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and a local TV reporter. Blake Aued tells readers to go to Peach Pundit for coverage of the Capitol chaos.

A question for my journalist readers - are you proud we've reached this point?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Political Roux


Originally published December 3, 2009

The Politics Of Rue

To make a proper roux, you need two things - lots of stirring and lots of heat. Much care must be given to this frantic combination lest you get burned by the spatter.

The slow simmer for Georgia Republicans began three weeks ago with the suicide attempt of Speaker Glenn Richardson. All seemed to reset as political types of all stripe gracefully uttered words of sympathy and understanding. Richardson emerged from the dark cloud and even began making public appearances. To the political junkies, the episode surely appeared odd but without much legs.

Then along came Susan.

The Speaker's ex-wife kept her silence for three years. Then, for reasons not fully explained, she clinically laid out to WAGA's Dale Russell her perspective of years of bullying, manipulation and infidelity. And she had a paper trail. The former Mrs. Richardson possessed text messages where the Speaker threatened to bring down johnny law on her head and emails detailing a torrid of an affair with a former employee of Atlanta Gas & Light.

We all hear rumors and tales of rutting and ruination from the gold dome. They blister out of those hallowed halls like a cold sore outbreak at the prom. They make great fodder for booze soaked conversations between insiders but as a wizened beat reporter once said, "it's there but we ain't never gonna nail it down".

The explosive nature of the Richardson affair with its witness willing to discuss the madness while showering the media with physical evidence has everyone wondering if a game change is afoot. Rumors of unique methods of adjusting certain pieces of apparel and of the one that lives over in that part of town and the one that is kept a couple of hundred miles out of town are now mentioned openly.

As the heat continues to rise, the ones watching the pot are stirring as fast as they can. And the ones who fear the boil and burn are frantically dodging and ducking the stick of the spit and spatter of the rue.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Fairness In Blogging


Originally published November 18, 2009

A Point Of View But Fair

A point of view but fair. It could be the organically evolved creed of this three year exploration of citizen journalism.

Long have I held the view that media as a whole is shackled by the unattainable goal of "objective reporting". (Having said that, before the furies of old world media descend, there is still a need for objective journalism, but it is part of the equation, not the whole.) The concept is now warped by 24-hour news cycles with powers-that-be seeking the modern day version of a live apartment fire. Readers and viewers, with some arrogance, spout the endless mantra of "just report the facts and let us decide" then scurry as quickly as possible to the latest report of a blonde girl snatched up by a crazed fanatic who force acts of debasement found only in the deepest recesses of the psychotic soul. We bathe ourselves in filth, then complain the news givers never provide cleansing water.

Objective reporting has its place but so does non-objective reporting and how we deal with the consequences of injecting the first person will determine if the form can be elevated or is relegated to an eternal mud wrestle with the Nancy Graces.

In my own world of first person reporting, I certainly do not hide my perspective but in order to maintain fairness, I've stood by three basic rules:

1. Research
2. Quote accurately
3. Give the other side a chance to respond

To the professional journalist, these are as familiar as shoes and socks. In our world, we still have a ways to go.

Monday, the admittedly biased Atlanta Progressive News released a "story" with "community reaction" to its previous story which reported mayoral candidate Kasim Reed's work as an attorney with Holland & Knight defending Cracker Barrel in a wage dispute case. APN noted Cracker Barrel's previous history of involvement in racial discrimination cases and noted the NAACP filed an amicus brief in the wage case. The tenuous connections of race to a non-racial issue caused lawyer blogger Going Through The Motions to brutally dissect APN's research and assertions.

APN's Matthew Cardinale defends his piece claiming that "we made it very clear that the Cracker Barrel case had to do with a wage dispute". He also noted the article clearly points to a separate race discrimination case. Although, he never clearly states it, Cardinale clearly claims the article was fair.

But was it? Let's apply my three rules.

1. Research - Shoddy at best. Obfuscating at worse. After giving great detail in the wage case, including the arguably irrelevant facts of Cracker Barrel's history of involvement in racial discrimination cases and the involvement of the NAACP, Cardinale points to a single case of alledged racial discrimination against a real estate firm. No details on the allegations or the conclusion. In the follow up article, once again quotes regarding Cracker Barrel are extensive, but no specifics about the second case. Perhaps, because there were no specifics.

2. Quote accurately - The whole of the quotes are in the follow up community reaction piece. We assume they are accurate since no one disputes them. Which leads us to...

3. When confronted with the lack of response from the Reed camp, Cardinale stated, "I've been doing this (APN) now for 4 years and usually have a good idea of when a PR department is going to respond, and when they aren't. So, I just didn't want to waste my time, nor my readers' time." Zero effort was made at giving the other side an opportunity to respond.

You might give a pass on the first - although it can certainly be viewed as selective research used to color the sky a particular shade of blue. There isn't much problem with the second. But the third - that sin is so dire it should never pass. A commenter claiming to be a journalist laid out the real world consequences of such a transgression, "I'd more than likely be fired. Maybe if I'm lucky I'd just be docked a week's pay".

I'm not bold enough to say my rules should apply to all. To each their own and let the readers decide what to believe and what is fair.

But if you can't follow these basic rules, then you should never get close to using the "j" word. And you're really quite a peacock if you attach some hopped up, unearned title like "News Editor" to your name.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - The Eagle Raid


Originally published September 14, 2009

Why The Eagle Raid Matters

It should matter because our Founders graced us with the Fourth Amendment.

It should matter because it exemplifies the ongoing struggle in Midtown between neighborhoods and businesses they deem unacceptable.

It should matter because the public perceives crime as out of control, yet, 8 people sat in jail for what amounted to dancing in their drawers.

But it really matters because it is yet another case of Atlanta picking at its own scab of uncertainty and disillusionment in troubled times.

Today, the FBI released crime statistics which seem to support Police Chief Richard Pennington's stance that crime is down in the city. Yet, these facts do not allay the fears of people living East Atlanta, Downtown and Southwest. Jim Walls continued investigation on the crime numbers lends credence to that worry. Although, crime may be down citywide, pockets of violence and burglary are on the rise and the stunning murder of The Standard's John Henderson, an assault on a Ormewood Park man cutting his grass and the string of shootings and robberies around the campuses of Clark-Atlanta University and Georgia Tech leave Atlantans shaking their head at the cold numbers the powers-that-be wave at the cameras.

If Atlanta is in trouble, like so many things with this transitional city, it is difficult to grasp exactly why. Unlike a Detroit, we do not have a housing market which reflects the third world and an inner core which rots before our very eyes.

Instead we have a myriad of problems which combine to make the greater less tenable.

Our police force is undersized and underfunded. Our guardian of truth, the flagship newspaper, is struggling to survive and its cracks caused by cuts are starting to show (note how many times a crime story appears with the same byline). Our public transit routinely begs to any public agency who will listen. Our public hospital, once again, had to walk hat in hand to the Fulton County Commission to plead for a few more months survival.

In times where the citizens are scared and no longer trust their government to provide protection, the last thing our beleaguered police force needs is tasks such as rousting a few gay men for flaunting their tighty whiteys behind closed doors.

The Eagle raid matters because it is as highly ideal as the U.S. Constitution and it is as personal as the people who suffered from imprisonment, but it's also about the character of this city - so famous for rising from its ashes. We are the city too busy too hate, the door to the world, welcome to all and embracing of all. Except last Thursday night when we were not. And it is these missteps which cannot, must not, happen again. For each one takes us back, closer to the ashes and the foul taste they will leave in every mouth.

Friday, June 04, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Origins of the AJC/ Peach Pundit Spit Swap

Originally published August 19, 2009 (Note: clicking through to the original is worthwhile as the comments were extensive)

Prolific Pete, Peach Pundet and Pandering

Prolific Pete is back at Peach Pundit and not much has changed.

Pete notes that the "tipline" (i.e. Peach Pundit's "cover" to publish any wild ramblings of anonymous emailers) reported a new website aimed at drafting Democratic Party of Georgia Chair Jane Kidd for the 2010 U.S. Senate race.
...the tipline brings news of a website to draft Jane Vandiver Kidd, Chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia, to run in the upcoming U.S. Senate race against fellow liberal Johnny Isakson.
Of course it's Peach Pundit, so it must be noteworthy. AJC top political gun Jim Galloway picks up the story and adds this gem.
Take this seriously. As was the case in 2006, Democrats are extremely worried that a less-than-stellar candidate will jump in and win the top spot on the party’s ticket.
And if anyone had taken five minutes to call Kidd, as Athens Banner Herald's Blake Aued did, they would have discovered the entire story was pure fantasyland.

For years, I've argued blogs could be more than rumor and innuendo mills.

Maybe I was wrong.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Hank Johnson's Town Hall


Originally published August 11, 2009

Town Hall Twist And Shout

We rarely boo at baseball games. Our calls to talk radio, although at times tinged with anger, are generally polite. To outsiders, it must appear difficult to stir Atlantans into a froth.

However, given the recent history of the so-called health care town halls across the land, there was some trepidation as people filed into the Cole Auditorium at Georgia Perimeter College's Central Campus on Monday night. 4th District Congressman Hank Johnson was hosting his first town hall and many showed up to see the fireworks.

Perhaps it was the heavy police presence. Perhaps it was the constant attention of the volunteers. Perhaps it was the very structured nature (including a reading of the rules and the Pledge of Allegiance) of the event. Perhaps it was all of these which calmed the divided crowd.

Or perhaps it was a slick politician with a speaking tone the equivalent of vocal valium.

Dekalb Commissioner Larry Johnson moderated and both he and Congressman Johnson asked the crowd to show the rest of the country that the south and Dekalb County was known for its ability to be polite in disagreement. For the most part, they succeeded, although as the rhetoric heated up, there were a few flareups and three people were escorted out for shouting from the audience. Commissioner Johnson joked about the first day of school and how the crowd had "failed the first test" bringing subdued chuckles from both sides of the aisle.

But perhaps Johnson's cleverest tactic was his panel. Instead of a town hall where a politician stood upon a holy rock and preached, the Congressman presented a panel of seven medical professionals with positions as diverse as the CEO of Grady advocating national health care to Dr. Troy Williamson of the Medical Association of Georgia flat out stating any public option was unacceptable. The ricocheting opinions had portions of the crowd switching from boos to cheers with whiplash speed. When one panelist advocated "personal responsibility", the applause was near universal.

The lack of radicalness proved a foil to the expected craziness and the only incident which drew attention from the stage was during the audience participation portion when a young man shouted a question from his seat. Outside the town hall, Sean Mangieri of Atlanta, the first person escorted out, said he expected to be thrown out for breaking the rules but felt it was necessary because it was "not a legitimate debate". Mangierie was quick to point out he was not there representing anyone but himself.

Perhaps the relatively subdued mood of the town hall was summarized best by former 10th District Republican candidate Bill Greene who attended because he felt it would be interesting. Greene said although he disagreed with Congressman Johnson's positions, he was "impressed by the diversity of the panel" and noted this is not the first time Johnson has reached out to unexpected allies. In 2009, the liberal Democrat Johnson co-sponsored libertarian Republican Ron Paul's bill to audit the U.S. government.

How To Create A Feedback Loop

How to create a feedback loop in 4 easy steps:

1. Have one of your contributors repeat a spurious claim by a candidate

2. When an outside entity shows how easy it is to get the other side of the story, have another contributor respond that it's "lame" without ever addressing the original claim.

3. Reprint the original candidates response, only this one isn't "lame", instead it is the "truth".

4. When questioned about the entire episode, have another contributor claim they are just reporting the "news, despite the fact that the entire episode was generated by them.

Welcome to epistemic closure - Georgia style.

UPDATE: And of course the AJC picks up the story. And manages to make the candidate look positive. Welcome to the new world. Ain't it grand?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Constablegate: The Final Note

Originally published August 10, 2009

A Final Note On ConstableGate

The first piece I wrote about Kyle Constable/John Oxendine was pretty much straight up news. The second piece was more my first person journalism style. This final note will be pure opinion.

Having spoken both on and off the record to the Oxendine campaign and to Kyle, here is my bottom line take on the situation: The campaign acted very stupidly by engaging with a minor, but unlike some have recently said, I believe their intentions were innocent.

The reason I tied my piece to the ethics of blogging was not to pick on a 15 year old who may or may not have the knowledge and experience to understand the consequences of his actions. However, his actions are another episode in the never ending fight about how journalists, campaigns and bloggers interact and how closely do bloggers follow traditional reporting rules and that's a subject I feel compelled to note.

There are some out there who talk both ways about what on the record means and what verification means and they are not minors (at least one of these adults I believe had an influence on Kyle and his subsequent actions). However, since they were only tangentially related to this story, I felt the focus had to be Kyle and his actions.

But take it from someone who recognizes that these types of murky ethics will lead to another cycle of recriminations from traditional media, we know who you are, so does the public and it doesn't matter how many page views or hits you rack up, your reputation is in your hands.

And in this business that's all that really matters.

The Best Of The Drifts - Constablegate: The Analysis


Originally published August 10, 2009

Dealing With The Devil

Jon Flack once said, "I'm not sure how to deal with these journalistic bloggers". Two years later, the struggle to define this murky relationship has moved to the campaign trail.

"We need to ask questions to bloggers to determine if they are writing as an activist or whether they are acting as a journalist so we can deal with them accordingly. We want to treat journalistic bloggers the exact same way we treat reporters" stated Republican candidate for Governor John Oxendine's Campaign Manager Tim Echols.

Echols was responding to last week's incident where teenage Lee County blogger Kyle Constable accused Oxendine campaign staff of "bullying" him.

On Friday, Constable published on his blog the details of a private conversation involving Oxendine consultants Gabe Winslow and Jeff Breedlove. Although he admits the conversation was off the record, Constable says the staffers were "rude" and "disrespectful" and he felt justified in breaking the veil of off the record because "it was something that needed to be published and knew that the people of Georgia were going to know the truth about what the Oxendine campaign does."

What followed was a blog storm which raged from the mountains to the coastal plains.

The easy story was a major gubenatorial campaign picking on a kid. The deeper rumbling was an onion peel of ethics in blogging and campaigning.

Blogs in the state of Georgia range from the openly partisan activists at Blog For Democracy to the more opaque Peach Pundit to fiercely non-partisan Drifting Through The Grift. Throw in professional journalist blogs like Fresh Loaf and Political Insider and you have a mish mash of purposes and standards possibly leaving readers confused about purposes and truths.

Constable found himself waste deep in the muck. He admits he was a "grassroots volunteer" for Oxendine but also expressed a desire to pursue journalism in the future. The conflict between these two very different trades erupted when he felt compelled to comment on his perception that a campaign tactic used by Oxendine was nothing more than a bait and switch effort to acquire email addresses. It was this posting which led to the now infamous conversation with Breedlove and Winslow.

Although the details of that conversation are lost to time and as is usually the case, both sides claim wildly differing perspectives, the result is not in dispute. Constable detailed the conversation and the Oxendine campaign found itself suddenly having to respond to stories that it was bullying teenagers. Not an activity any campaign desires.

Reporting an off the record conversation is the nuclear option for any journalist or any aspiring journalist. Every story is a deal with the devil. The journalist or the journalistic blogger is trying to get a story and every campaign is trying to get their story out. Both sides are being used, but both sides understand they are being used. There are rules to this game and as long as both sides stick to those rules, everyone's goals can be accomplished with fairness and at least a degree of honesty readers find acceptable.

Off the record conversations are critical tools in the deal and have the most defined rule set. Their primary purpose is to give a writer context around an event. Simply put, they are the check on whether a story is true or not. Although a campaign staffer will provide a gin-upped pablum of platitudes on the record, it is off the record where they will tell you if you're even on the right trail. Many a reporter has been saved by someone saying "I can't tell you officially, but you're getting this one wrong".

Although the professional standards may vary slightly, the rule regarding off the record conversations is simple - you don't report them. Most don't even hint about them. They are proximity bombs and the closer you get, the more likely they are to go off in your face. Professional journalists understand playing fast and loose in this arena can cost a career. For the non-professional bloggers, doors pried open a mere crack may slam shut relegating a voice to a lonely island of despair surrounded by an ocean of distrust.

Though his actions might be excused due to youth and inexperience, Constable is already tasting the consequences. Following a strong public rebuke from the Georgia Teen Republicans (Constable is Treasurer of the organization), today, he shut his blog down and although he will not admit to being pressured into this action, he does state, "
I know that by shutting down my blog not only can I continue to make a difference to the people around me where I'm planted, I may be able to re-unify the [Georgia Teen Republican] Executive Board so that we, as a whole, can really start to make a difference in the state."

Time will tell, if this episode will linger around the Oxendine campaign or their young former supporter, but all should note the eternal lesson - if you yank on the devil's tail too hard, you will get burned.

The Best Of The Drifts - Constablegate: The Straight Story


Originally published August 7, 2009

The Candidate And The Kid

Only those who work deep in the trenches of the hideous world of politics likely care, but there was a small flareup today when 15 year old Lee County blogger Kyle Constable claimed he was "bullied" by officials from the John Oxendine campaign after writing a piece questioning the legitimacy of the Oxendine ancillary website youcanstopObama.com.

Constable fueled the fire further by publishing details from what he admits was an "off the record" conversation with the campaign.

Prior to today's events Constable was a supporter of Oxendine and used his website to praise the candidate.

John Oxendine Campaign Manager Tim Echols believes this episode resulted from a misunderstanding between Constable and his staff and stated to Drifting Through The Grift, "We value the involvement of teenagers in this campaign. It is important that we work with them and their parents to determine the best role for them to play."

In the dog days of August, political campaigns tend to stall and all those who travel that strange road will search for any rest stop to quench the thirst for political spirits. Merely the idea of a gubernatorial campaign fueding with a teenager stirred the Georgia political blogosphere into a frenzy. However, once the dust settles, the conversation of the role of bloggers in politics and the ethical dilemmas encountered will likely continue.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Galloway and Peach Pundit


Originally published on July 23, 2009

Ahem, Mr. Galloway

I'm going to attempt to avoid profanity but it will be difficult.
Blogging is the new journalism, we’re told. And so all bloggers are journalists, right? Not really. ~AJC's Political Insider Jim Galloway
No kidding.

Let's get the karmic band-aid out of the way first. Jim Galloway is one of the finest journalists in this town and if the AJC ever lost him, I doubt they would recover.

Now.

For over three years, there has been a conversation in this town about journalism, blogging, where the two meet and where they don't meet. As far as I know, Jim Galloway has never been a participant. The ignorance of his statement bears witness to this fact.

My only personal interaction with Jim was when I went to the Newt Gingrich love fest at the Galleria. I introduced myself and he complimented my writing which was very nice of him. He then told me I was too late, they'd already talked to the bloggers.

Because you see - a blogger wouldn't attend an event to get a story - one would only attend to be spoon fed whatever was covered in the "blogger meeting".

Let me share something with you, Jim. Blogging is not the new journalism. Journalism does occur on blogs, although getting some of your cohorts to admit this tiny fact is akin to convincing a flat-earther the moon landings really happened.

And lot's of other things occur on blogs. We come in many varieties, cover many topics and we'll even admit we have different levels of quality. You see, we're not this monolithic creature which vomits the same thing over and over. And every time I hear a newspaper person, the supposed guardians of the truth, use this easy fallacy, my respect for your industry slips a little further.

Now, about Erick Erickson.

Jim's ridiculous statement led to an analysis of Erick Erickson's latest ugliness which led to the pearl clutching discovery that not all bloggers are journalists and perhaps the state's largest blog, Peach Pundit, is not a transparent temple of the truth. Get out the fainting couch.

If Jim was going to pick a finer example to portray blogs as non-journalistic, I couldn't think of a better one.

After all, over the years Peach Pundit has:

  • Published a front page writer who failed to disclose his connections to campaigns and has published false stories. (By the way, Jim - Peach Pundit is the only Georgia blog I know where he wouldn't be booted on his ass immediately)
  • Published anonymous tips without any attempt at confirmation.
  • Been a vehicle for Erick's personal witch hunts. Witch hunts disguised as expose' but backed by evidence so thin, The National Enquirer would blanch.
  • Witch hunts which skate perilously close to libel.
  • And has generally chosen to use the worse characteristics of a political spin machine as its modus operandi.

Peach Pundit isn't a journalistic outfit? Tell us something we don't know.

Peach Pundit is a monument to ego (Jim, you should ask Erick about his rolodex - he's proud to brag it's bigger than John Oxendine's) which loves nothing more than to wallow in the mostly Republican mud but when called out, snouts up its few mealy-mouthed Democrat contributors (one who happens to be the aforementioned false reporting scoundrel) and squeal "Objectivity! Objectivity!"

But they are the cool kids, so of course the establishment runs to them for a good story. After all, they and the establishment slop at the same trough with the same obvious result emerging from the other end. Garbage in, garbage out.

Jim, just because Peach Pundit is the biggest and baddest doesn't mean they're the best. And just because they are the most popular doesn't mean the rest of us want to be just like them.

And you, Jim, are the best in the business at telling us things we don't know. Please, return to that rewarding venue and leave this isle of tropes far behind.

Friday, May 28, 2010

My Morning Wooten

Let us dance one more time. I love it when Jim whines about transportation.
Propose a transportation sales tax increase, as Georgia legislators have done, and the visionaries spending other peoples’ money start planning monuments, and costly ones at that. Cobb County commissioners have given the county’s transportation director authority to try to sell a 14-mile light-rail line, projected to cost at least $2 billion, running from the Galleria to Town Center near Kennesaw. Please. Fix the bottlenecks. Make traffic move. Put the money where it produces the greatest benefit to the most people.
In other words, lay down more pavement on the widest section of the entire interstate system.

Clarity And Honesty

Another new media/old media fight broke out.

It's an old fight, one where many of the combatants have tired and retreated from the field, but the recent news that many major papers in Georgia are pooling resources caused old hurts to resurface at Beyond The Trestle.

And I believe the fight has swayed from "our side" being on the offensive to being on the defensive. And I believe the wounds are self-inflicted.
There is a great deal of hubris in the online community right now. And as many have suspected, it is personally causing me existential angst. We are becoming exactly what the old media said we would - full of ourselves and thumping our chests over a product that is becoming half ass. The bottom line is we had a chance to raise ourselves to them and instead they are descending towards us. And some are gleefully declaring victory.
But The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates tangentially makes my point with more eloquence:
Lastly, there's what my label-mate Andrew calls, "journalism's dirty secret." The dirty secret is this--perhaps more than any other "profession" journalism's barriers to entry are really artificial. It does take a special person to be a great journalist. Curiosity in the extreme is important. A strong desire to see, and thus think, clearly is important. But neither of these can really be taught in a crude classroom environment. Journalism can't be absorbed through a series of lectures and assigned readings. It must be done. No one can teach you how to go up to strangers and ask rude questions. You just have to do it. Repeatedly.

I highlighted those particular lines because I believe too many will focus on the last few lines.

One thing I tell all aspiring "citizen journalists" is pick up a pen and a pad and go ask questions. Most will be shocked at how easy it is to gain access and how willing people are to answer questions. But it does take a bold person to make that first move. However, it is so much more than just having the gumption to "go up to strangers and ask rude questions"

It is about clarity and honesty.

If you go into a story with a preconceived narrative, you are only fulfilling half your task. If you are unwilling to have your mind changed, you might as well write in a vacuum. Echo chambers only create reflections - hey never produce any new sounds.

And many of us have fallen far short of these simple standards. Even sadder, some of us see it as a triumph. More on that later.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Confessions Of A Taxman


Originally published March 8, 2009

Confessions of a Taxman

Why does a libertarian become a tax collector? Because even libertarians need a paycheck. How does a libertarian act as a tax collector? With the belief that tax enforcement is not about punishment but correcting mistakes.

In the days when I still referred to myself as a libertarian instead of an independent, for two years I was employed by the Georgia Department of Labor as a Field Representative (officially an Unemployment Insurance Tax Auditor). I did not miss the irony.

One duty was the collection of the Unemployment Insurance tax. Unlike other taxmen with whom you may be familiar, I did not go after individuals - I went after employers. Employers paid the tax quarterly with the amount based on their total payroll. When they became delinquent, a file came to my desk and I devised the best strategy to obtain the money.

To the frustration of my supervisor, I demurred in the use of the most devastating tools in my arsenal. Restraint and diplomacy became my style. Others who had worked the trade for years shook their heads in disbelief.

I have many war stories from these years, some funny, some sad, but the two I always remember were the strip club and the daycare center.

My assigned territory was a mottled blob of strangeness. It stretched from the strip joints and lingerie modeling establishments on Cheshire Bridge through the financial heart of Buckhead all the way to the doctor's offices around Northside Hospital. It was not unusual for a single trip to take me from a liquor store to a stockbroker's office.

Despite what one might think, the adult establishments were hardly a problem. Other than the Gold Club (the Federales got them before I ever got close), for months I never saw a file on the myriad houses of nudity. Then, one appeared. It was a small bill. They only missed one filing but curiousity (and perhaps more puerile interest) drove me to investigate.

There are few things weirder than a strip club at 2:00 in the afternoon on a weekday. The parking lot was full of trucks and sedans. I was entering the world of the landscapers and salesmen - men who forsake the heat of the day for a dark place covered in booze and skin.

A cocktail waitress approached me and asked if I needed anything. A manager I replied. The man in charge appeared quickly and I showed him the bill. He ushered me to his office and relayed a familiar story.

The club had changed accountants and in the confusion the quarterly filing was misssed. I responded, "It happens all the time. I figured it was something like that since you guys are never a problem".

He agreed, opened the big business checkbook and snapped out the full amount.

As he handed me the check, he said, "It'll never happen again."

I replied, "I bet".

Not too far from the strip joint, a young couple opened a daycare center.

They left high paying engineering jobs because they wanted something for themselves and they loved children.

When their file crossed my desk, my supervisor pointed out that it appeared to be classic case of what he called a "mercy killing". He believed some people did not have what it takes to run a business and the best action we could take was to end the misery. He had a point. They were a new business and those always faced the most danger. They were also horribly behind and experience told me the chances of payment were slim.

It was within my power to begin the process which would result in their closure, but I looked at my supervisor and said, "let me go check them out".

The daycare was in an old building next to an even older apartment complex, but it had a fresh coat of bright yellow paint and flower decals on the door. The owners were not much older than me and it was apparent they were over their heads. When they first opened, they knew a lot about kids but not much about running a business. Of course they were aware of the outstanding taxes - they had dutifully filed every quarter, they just didn't pay. The wife told of the dread they both felt about the day the taxman came and now he was here.

We sat and I heard the familiar story of the sacrifices made, the hard lessons learned and the tiny successes. Some tears were shed but their eyes glinted with the belief they had turned the corner and could still realize their dream. But they had no idea how they would deal with this awful piece of paper I was holding in my hand.

I looked around - noted the clean but obviously second hand furnishings, the gaggle of children playing in the next room and the mother arriving to take her daughter home. I then reached into my bag and pulled out a repayment agreement. We discussed how much they could pay without crippling the business, how long it would take and how I would personally come each month to pick up the check. I warned them that my supervisor's approval was required but I believed I could convince him.

The next day, he rolled his eyes and signed the agreement.

Every month, for one year, I stopped by the daycare and picked up a check. On the last day, they met me at the doors with smiles on their faces, check in hand. They demanded I follow them to the office to see the photocopy they made of their final payment.

In two years as a taxman, I only put one business out of operation and filed less than two dozen liens, yet I was in the top three collectors every quarter.

The strip club and the daycare center and countless others taught me there is a reason tax matters are dealt with in a civil rather than a criminal manner. Most people who get into trouble with the taxman do so through carelessness, biting off more than they can chew or just flat out Murphy's Law. It is the rare bird who intentionally tries to get away with being a cheat.

In this season of much thunder about taxes, who pays them, who doesn't and what should be done about it, saying so and so is a bad person and should be punished is an easy story to sell to a cynical public. But as politicians proudly thump their chests and demand a reckoning, we should remember that behind their simplistic descriptions of ne'er-do-wells may be a daycare center or even a strip club or maybe your neighbor or maybe even you.

The bloodlust and call for scalps are seductive, but we all face the taxman eventually and all should hope their own story is seen for what it is and not just a politician's punchline.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Old Media Transparency

Originally published June 4, 2009

The Transparency Shield

In Decatur, as the Atlanta Journal Constitution continued scaling back local operations, hyperlocals such as DecaturMetro and inDecatur began filling the gaps left behind. Inevitably, the nascent exploration of areas long held by the media giant led to conflict. Discussions of what constituted journalism and appropriate credit spawned spirited discussions across the town square of the new media community.

70 miles away, Dr. Lee Becker, a professor of journalism and proprietor of the online site Oconee County Observations, inadvertently provided a perfect case study of the clash between traditional and new media.

His piece"Oconee Officials Met Secretly To Discuss Assembly Session" set out to expose possible shenanigans by his hometown politicians, but what followed was an easily traceable timeline of a typical old/new media convergence and then divergence.

On 5-23, Becker published his story about potential open meetings violations by the Oconee County Commission. Given his background and the thoroughness of the research and sourcing, there can be little doubt the piece should be considered journalism. However, what happened next raised familiar ethical and philosophical questions.

The next day, Athens Banner Herald staff writer Adam Thompson picked up Becker's story and published it on his ABH blog. To his credit, Thompson attributed the origin of the story to Becker's site.

One week later, on June 1, the ABH published a Thompson article on the subject in both its online and print editions. Neither Becker nor his site are mentioned.

The following day, the ABH published an editorial which referred only to the previous day's Thompson article. Athough the editorial board did not specifically claim the paper broke the story, viewed in the vacuum of the print and online editions, the implication cannot be denied.

There is little doubt the genesis of Thompson's story and the editorial follow-up was the piece published by Dr. Becker. As the story passed further from its origin and deeper into the traditional editorial process, the opaqueness of the original source grew.

Amid the assaults on the newspaper industry, one powerful shield which frequently remains unused is transparency. People simply do not understand how newspapers work and this lack of knowledge creates an atmosphere where readers are easy prey for those who peddle in myths of bias and lack of credibility.

When, where and how Becker should have been credited should be debated. However, it is clear the Athens Banner Herald missed an opportunity to use the transparency shield as a tool to give its readers a complete vision of this particular story and glimpse at how all stories emerge. A beneficial by-product would have been appropriate credit for Dr. Becker and possibly a strengthening of the perception of the new media warrior and the traditional media guardian sharing the role of protectors of democracy.

Instead, we are left with the continued friction and our separate pursuits of the solutions we all crave.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Congratulations Pye and Walls


Last night, the Atlanta Press Club held its annual award ceremony and two of our own were in the thick of it.

Congratulations to our friend Jason Pye of Jasonpye.com, Peach Pundit and United Liberty for his nomination in the Online/Multimedia category. Jason is one of the true voices of reason in the Georgia blogosphere. He is stubborn in his convictions and pointed in his perspective, but he also understands that continuing the community conversation and allowing the possibility of other viewpoints does not dull his own. Many could learn from his example.

And congratulations to winner in the Online/Multimedia category, Jim Walls of Atlanta Unfiltered. Jim is a testament to the labor, thorougness and deft stroke of a pen required to perform real journalism in our little world. He doesn't get near enough credit, from either his former pen and paper brothers and sisters or from us in the online community, for his consistent production of quality, groundbreaking stories. We should all do better by him.

Last night showed we've come a long way from the days when us byte-slinger upon entering those hallowed halls were met with hostility.

We've come a long way baby!

Photo courtesy of Grayson Daughters

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best Of the Drifts - The Tip Of The Spear


Originally published June 22, 2009

The Tip Of The Spear

Blogs are Id. I suppose if you continue the analogy, staff reports are the Ego and features/columns/
investigatives are the SuperEgo ~griftdrift in a conversation with a traditional journalist

Developing a philosophy on media in our rapidly changing world is evolutionary, but a revolution may have shown us the way.

All discussions of media in a world of blogs, twitter, facebook and whatever comes next center on the question of "how do we make this work?"

For the moment, let's put aside the issue of how do we make money. No one has the answer and it only muddies the waters.

As we continued to navel gaze on the slow death of newspapers, the eventual death of the 6:00 news and the impact of both on our democracy, events in Iran accelerated the conversation far past our current mutterings and hand wringing.

Although many have framed the Iranian unrest as another "Twitter grows up" moment (they are coming with more regularity aren't they?), the side story of how CNN was apparently caught flat-footed is more interesting from an evolving media perspective.

In the opening days of the protests, CNN, who famously made its bones breaking huge international stories, was noticeably absent. Filling the void were the blogs of Andrew Sullivan, Nico Pitney and Juan Cole. Sullivan's place became a practical stream of conscience of every raw tidbit the maelstrom ejected.

As Twitter became the tool of choice for protesters, information which had been a trickle became a torrent.

Of course, both were rife with exactly the type of content traditional media decries as the downfall of new media - items were impossible to confirm and possibly blatantly false. The great weakness of new media is the possibility of manipulation by an unseen hand. As Iran devolved into a full blown cyberwar, it became nigh impossible to tell the truth from the truth spinners. The old internet adage of believing everything is false until proven otherwise certainly applied.

Sullivan and his cohorts were very clear that information passed along was unverified and should be taken as such.

Finally, into the breach stepped CNN. As the second week of unrest progressed, CNN with all its resources created an "Iran desk" with reporters interpreting images and speeches from a far, calling contacts in Iran and their greatest resource in these situations, Foreign Editor Christiane Amanpour, on air constantly (notably asking one of the most pointed questions at an Ahmedenijad press conference).

What had been a vast field of clutter was brought under the aegis of a massive media machine and began to resemble structure.

Oddly, the progression of media events in those two weeks mirror a common occurrence in the world of software - the merger of a smaller start-up with a traditional, heavily bureaucratized legacy. The only way these types of mergers work is if the agility of the start-up and the institutional knowledge of the legacy are both leveraged without either losing its identity. Failure occurs when either side insists on lockstep adaptation of a "preferred" culture.

Too often in the past, both sides of the media discussion have opted for the second methodology instead of the first. We recognize that we are not the same but we fail to recognize there is strength in that lack of sameness.

So, it is admission time and I am willing to go first.

We cannot do your job. There will be times when we perform parts of your job and I believe it has been shown in the past three years that we can do it with a level of professionalism and standards that should be acknowledged. But we can't cover a beat as well as you do, at this point we can't conduct investigative pieces as well as you do and we sure as hell can't cover an international conflagration with the level of detail and confirmation needed. We need you and it is far past time we admit this fact.

However, in a world where it grows more likely that a person's first contact with a story is a blog or facebook or twitter, you need us too.

We are the tip of the spear but you are the haft - both needed, one for first contact and one for weight and direction, to enable the whole to reach its target.

The Best Of The Drifts - An Accessory


Originally Published February 24, 2009

An Accessory

It is time to talk plainly.

There comes a time in many relationships when one side must accept the fact the other side simply does not care. It is painful. It is undesirable. But it is a crystalline threshold which must be passed.

I do not speak of the Atlanta Journal Constitution or Creative Loafing. They were casual friends at best. Even as they stumbled online and dwindled on paper, they were always upfront that they never really considered us potential partners.

I speak of the new guys arriving at the dance.

A little over a year ago, I was approached by a quasi-traditional media company who wanted to create a nationwide network of blogs to cover the Presidential campaign. It was an exciting idea but there was barely any time and the idea was nebulous at best.

However, the players seemed sincere about melding "old" and "new" media and there was the small hope a real hybrid would emerge.

Using my knowledge of the online world and small reputation, I began recruiting bloggers across the nation. It was the usual promise of exposure and more traffic - the Tree of Knowledge fruit which lures us so easily. I dutifully submitted my lists of contacts and then waited for the next step which never came.

Soon, I realized the entire project was nothing more than a vanity vehicle and the dreams of something new and better had been cast aside for a shiny new toy.

At least they paid.

A few months ago, I was approached again.

Instead of an old company playing with new toys, this venture was a new company starting fresh. Hope kindled in the fact that not only had this new entity acquired an astounding array of talent but those in charge previously showed an understanding of new media. Their proposal was nothing less than blowing up then replacing the traditional distribution model for journalistic content.

And from the beginning they spoke of integrating new media voices.

Simply sitting in a room with generations of journalism experience and hearing them discuss publishing in terms developed, tweaked and pushed in previous blog conversations, panel discussions and fiery arguments was intoxicating. There was enough hope for a realization of an idea that I rushed home and immediately typed up all my thoughts, philosophies and weird ideas on how new and old could be blended.

It was received by the powers that be with much praise.

Then nothing.

Weeks passed. A follow-up was ignored. When this new organization stepped out into the limelight by breaking one of the fundamental rules of online life, I politely contacted them to explain the error. Still nothing.

There was no break-up letter. Not even the polite corporate-like "we've decided to go in another direction" missive. Just nothing.

The threshold was passed and the painful reality realized.

Those in the traditional media see us like a new leather jacket or new boots they acquire to blend in while venturing to the new hip part of town. Once they return home, the pajamas and slippers slide back on and the new duds are tossed in the back of the closet - perhaps never seen again.

The reality is they have never accepted us and they never will.

Each of us will confront this fact in our usual individual ways but my confrontation has passed and my own conclusion reached.

I will never be an accessory again.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Atlanta Is A Half-Ass City


Originally published February 12, 2009

Half Ass City

We are a half ass city.

Like a teenager with self-esteem issues, Atlanta tends to half ass its way through everything.

We built and built and built while half-assing infrastructure until the sewers told us to pony up $4 billion or they would spew sludge into the streets.

We half-assed on transportation and ended up with the most incomplete, dysfunctional transit system of any major city in the country.

But most glaringly, in 1996, exposed to the world, we half-assed the Olympics and when something went wrong, the press handed our half-ass back to us on an ink-stained platter.

And we're about to do it again.

For years, people of many stripes, myself included, have promoted the idea of a casino at Underground. Despite the whines of the moralists, it would solve many problems. It would give the ubiquitous conventioneers a place to wander. It would bring god knows how much revenue to a city strapped for cash. Most importantly, it would finally lance the boil of a city subsidized entertainment district that only entertains as a frightening freak show.

But instead of changing the state law which prevents casino gambling, Atlanta is exploring using a loophole in the lottery law which allows video gambling machines -and not even those poor pitiful video poker machines, but some half-ass lottery spewing chimera.

Left on Lanier correctly notes, "If Atlanta is going to pursue gambling as a correction to budget issues, then it’s best to make it hardcore. Attract big money gamblers by providing live poker with live dealers, pit bosses, additional security, the whole works. Over time, we could add the fountains and lighting and attractions, and become a mini-Las Vegas- complete with police presence and a general sense of well-being in the city center".

But I doubt we will. We won't because we don't understand the concept of all-in. We'd rather cautiously play a little here and a little there - never making that breath gasping push. And every poker player of any skill knows the inevitable result of this strategy - no money left and out of the game.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - On Moderates


Originally Published November 10, 2008

An Appeal To Moderates

Moderates, by their very nature, avoid conflict.

For this reason, they spent the last 20 years operating in the shadows, sacrificing principle for the comfort of power as the radicals stomped across the landscape. They said all the right words and attended the appropriate services at the chapels of venom.

In 2000, when their standard bearer, John McCain was publicly flogged by the so called righteous, they said little.

For 8 years, they stood aside as their bloody brethren ripped at the Constitution - wetting their talons with torture and imprisonment.

In 2008, finally some ventured to speak against yet another disastrous choice and were met by a mob carrying stakes and kindling.

The witch fires have illuminated the shadows. There can be no more standing to the side as the looming beast now feeds on its own.

***

The beast is a chimera of many parts and it is on these parts which you must strike.

Sarah Palin - Fortune made her the face of the radicalism. She is not, as some say, unintelligent. Her weight on the campaign was not a lack of intellect but a lack of intellectual curiousity. It is not that she doesn't know the participants in the North American Free Trade Agreement - it is that she doesn't seem to care. She embraces the spirit of know nothingness which now grips your party. This standard bearer must be banished or you will wander in the wilderness for generations.

Abortion - You have lost your voice because those under 30 no longer hear you. They consider this most divisive issue settled and wish to move forward. If due to personal belief you must remain with this issue, you must concede reasonable exceptions. To do otherwise will guarantee those you need most will simply pass you by.


Talk Radio - Recently the voice of the beast was asked if there is room in the Republican party for moderates - Rush Limbaugh responded "We want their votes but they'll never be one of us". A brighter line was never set. If Democrats are the enemy to be fed upon, moderate Republicans are merely the ground the beast walks across. Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter, Malkin and all those who cry for blood must be rejected. You must stop appearing on their shows. You must stop parroting their insanity. The last two elections have shown the market is rejecting their brand of rabble rousing. Assist the market in hastening their demise.


The Despair of KnowNothingness - Reason must prevail over the heart of the beast. If someone asks you if you believe in evolution, you must say yes, but you leave these issues to science and it does not bear on faith. If someone asks you if you believe in global warming, you must say yes, but add the task will be difficult and we must seek solutions that better us all. You must discount the brand of dishonesty which claims to hold the one true knowledge at the expense of those whose life work is the quest for knowledge.


***


Now, it is on this ground where you must fight - for it is good ground.


Gun Rights - Heller rightly established the Second Amendment as an individual right and not a collective one. You will find allies across the ideological landscape who are gun owners and believe that owning guns is not a sin. But do not seek them in the halls of the N.R.A. Seek them in the hunting camps of Georgia, the small businesses in D.C. and the indoor target ranges of L.A.


Property Rights - If Heller was absolutely right, Kelo was absolutely wrong. The mere idea that the government can swoop in and take a person's property without a fare-thee-well is more abhorrent than any of the issues the radicals put forth as critical. Forget promising platitudes of nominating judges who rule on "strict construction". Promise judges who understand that as with guns, property is a right of the individual and not the collective.


Business - If you must be the party of business then do so. There are plenty of people who understand the economy doesn't work without big business. But also be the party of small business. It may be the Wal-Marts which make our nation a partner in the global economy, but it is the mom and pop restaurants which make every small town in this country a partner in the whole's greater success. Support small business loans. Support microloans. Offer support to all rungs of the ladder and those who you need most will help raise that ladder to new heights.


Spending - Yes, we must talk about taxes but for the love of all that is good, let us talk about spending first. When John McCain talked as a spending hawk, CNN's fancy dial-a-vote devices went through the roof. When he wandered back into the land of the beast, they fell through the floor. The people want smaller government. They want more local control. They will understand the hard choices to be made. Instead of promising a tax chicken in ever pot, promise we won't have to sell Oregon to pay off the Chinese. It is for their children and their children's children. Every parent understands sacrifice to make the next generation's world better. Talk to your constituents like the adults they are and they will listen.

***

Not that long ago, I had a conversation with Republican State Senator David Shafer. We met in a not unusual way. He disagreed with something I wrote on embryonic stem cells. Sen. Shafer and I agree on nothing about right to life issues. However, once we set aside that deadly conflict, a conversation emerged on the future of Grady Hospital. I learned more about the issues of local health care in this half hour conversation than any number of position papers, activist marches and stormings of the Grady board meetings ever taught me.

All it took was momentarily setting aside the differences in order to discuss areas where we agreed. It was in that country, not yet touched by the beast, where we not only found common ground but solutions.

It is in these refuges of reason where the battle can be won. But first you must be willing to make your stand. The time for the stalwart has come. The engagement is at hand and the decision must be made - do you fight for this good ground?

Monday, May 17, 2010

And The Answer Is...

No.

After much consideration, I've decided to not run for House District 82.

Although I was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement of friends and family, it is just not the right time in my life to cross the fence from the land of the policy observers to the land of policy makers.

I wish whoever runs for the 82nd much luck and, of course, I'll be watching closely.

As for the future. You'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - 2008 Perry Debates


Originally published October 9, 2008

Clouds And Clods In Perry

Dark skies roiled around the Georgia National Fairgrounds as the candidates for U.S. Senate and the 8th Congressional district gathered at the stage of the Reaves Arena in Perry, Ga. Perhaps, Mr. Henry asked a favor of his new landlord, for the heavens indeed opened, threatening to drown out the lows of the manure slingers who temporarily infested the hallowed home the legendary cattleman built for his beloved livestock.

Despite the exhortations of the spare but raucous audience, the blather on the stage never matched the fury of the rain lashing the roof. It seemed every time a politician opened his mouth the whipping of water on the ceiling crescendoed, causing the occasional nervous eye to stare heavenward - possibly wondering where all would run if the thing peeled off like a potato skin.

As with most debates, there were no game changers. No particularly harsh gaffes. No soul stirring moments of inspiration. No pol succumbing to the pressure, stripping off every stitch of clothing and prancing around like a chicken. Not much fun at all.

Instead, with a weird format which limited answers to a couple of minutes and 30 second rebuttals at the discretion of the moderator, the entire affair was mostly limited to sound bite pablum found in commericials.

In the big daddy event of the Senate race, Democrat Jim Martin was more confident and forceful than expected - except when he lapsed into wonkish professor mode, droning on about billions and trillions.

Incumbent Senator Saxby Chambliss talked about winning wars, cutting taxes and saving us all from the liberal menace - except when he stumbled around on the immigration question and was met with an uncomfortable silence from his previously rabid supporters.

Libertarian Allen Buckley referred to his website about 243 times and appeared genuinely rattled any time the restless audience began burbling with either approval or disapproval. At certain points, if someone had whispered "boo", he might have just darted for the wings.

The congressional candidates were mercifully spared a full hour of the nonsense and spent a mere 30 minutes warbling mostly about "the vote".

Incumbent Democrat Jim Marshall mentioned a letter he received from the AARP, one of the debate sponsors, about half a dozen times in the hope that the powerful blue hair lobby would provide the karmic bailout bandaid he so desperately needed.

Republican challenger Rick Goddard spewed about better handling of the taxpayers money and his knowledge that 90% of Georgia opposed the bailout. Of course he had this handy fact because before making a public statement on the hot potato of the day, he had polled extensively - including inadvertently quizzing Jim Marshall's campaign office.

Somewhere in the middle, Goddard said "this is a strong market" and Marshall said he "hadn't paid much attention to either (Presidential) candidate's plans for Iraq". Despite the strength of these two gaffes, no blood ran because after 90 minutes of beating rain and bleating politicians, few still cared.

Afterward, when the hands were shook and signs were stowed, all waited in the lobby for the rain to cease lashing the fairground. There would be no quick aboslution for these political desperadoes who had invaded this innocent land of funnel cakes and candy apples.

Eventually the storm waned and a bright moon emerged from the clouds. Mr. Henry must have decided to once again rest easy - for tomorrow, the cleaner parade of cows and pigs would return to his arena.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Credibility


Originally published September 18, 2008

Credibility

Credibility is a word much bandied these days.

We are told that in this internet world where the abililty to tell a story is as simple as clicking a hyperlink, the traditional media is a refuge of credibility. We are assured the layers of "editorial processes" is a vanguard against myth and rumor. We are told that those who use their actual names as opposed to pen names are more trustworthy. We are told many things.

Yesterday, Atlanta Journal Constitution Assistant Editorial Page Editor Jim Wooten published a story regarding the hacking of Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin's email indicating that "sleazy political operatives are so unnerved by the prospect that Palin lit a fire under Republicans and is drawing more women and Independents to McCain that they’re willing to break the law". No evidence is given. No elucidation follows. These political operatives are never identified.

In fact, it was already known the apparent hacker boasted his deeds on an internet community known less for its politcal persuasion and more for its ability to cause chaos. This small morsel of information was ignored in order to feast on a meal of polemical vapors.

Confronted by the absence of fact in the piece, the AJC's response is no one knows the politics of the perpetrators therefore there is no factual error.

This is credibility.

In July of this year, Atlanta blogger Andre Walker reported the Democratic Party of Georgia had pressured the Georgia Association of Educators to withdraw its support of Senate candidate Rand Knight. The story was based on anonymous sources with no corroboration and quickly fell apart - forcing Walker to issue a retraction and an apology.

That same month, it was discovered Walker failed to disclose money received from a political candidate who he portrayed positively on his blog. Once again, although this time after much pressure from the Atlanta blogging community, he was forced to admit he should have acted differently.

Yesterday, Walker was quoted in an Albany Herald article alledging unrest within the Democratic Party of Georgia over the replacement of a Dougherty County School Board candidate. He indicated members of the Executive Committee were unaware of the actions of the party in the matter and presented as evidence the now familiar claims of anonymous emails and phone calls.

This is credibility.

We listen to those inhabiting the towers of higher learning warn of falsehoods and fraud. We are told about guardians of democracy. At times, these guardians whisper totemic phrases to mark that which they deem credible.

We are told many things.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

District 82 Update

Secretary Kemp has clarified the qualifications. Anyone considering running will have to run as a Democrat:
Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp announced today that he will call a special primary election to fill the Democratic nomination for State House District 82 upon the withdrawal of State Rep. Kevin Levitas.
Qualifying begins next Monday. My final assessment will come at that time.

About House District 82

I, along with many others, was surprised by Rep. Kevin Levitas sudden decision to not seek re-election in House District. Rep. Levitas consistently placed service to his constituents above party and ideology. His common sense approach in an arena sometimes devoid of this fundamental trait will be missed.

My inquiry into the possibility of continuing his legacy by seeking to be his replacement brought positive responses from Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians. I am overwhelmed by this diverse support and it reaffirms my lifelong belief that ideas always win over ideology.

Due to the unusual circumstances of this election, the qualification process remains unclear. Therefore, before I make any decision, I've requested clarification from Secretary of State Kemp. Once the issue of qualification is resolved, I will consult with my family and together we will determine if this journey of service to the people of District 82 is one we are bound to begin.

But, if I'm in it - I'm in it to win it.

James Williams
Wildly Independent...But In A Good Way

Press Inquiries to griftdrift@gmail.com

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The Best Of The Drifts - Blogging Ethics


Originally Published July 30, 2008

Into The Ethical Woods

I'm not going to pile on. Really, I'm not. Although given the past arrogance of Georgia Politics Unfiltered owner Andre Walker (eagerly chastising his fellow bloggers, not crediting those who get a story first, not so humbly bragging about his traffic in comparison to others and perhaps tellingly, not supporting his fellow bloggers unless they are associates), it would be easy to do. Wait, maybe I just parenthetically did.

But there is a bigger issue at play here.

Atlanta Progressive News outing of Andre as a stooge for the David Scott campaign exposes every person who writes about politics through the veil of a blog to criticisms we've all heard too often. Only this time, the nabobs can roll out an actual incident as proof. The already steep hill we travel just had a Sisyphus stone added.

Ken Edelstein, Editor of Creative Loafing:
For that matter, how can the average reader even tell who bloggers actually are when they use pen names like Rogue109 (another Peach Pundit poster) and decaturguy? It’s a principle of the blogosphere that people get to be anonymous. That may be an unavoidable part of the nature of the medium. But if influential bloggers are anonymous, how can you where there bread is buttered?
I've already covered anonymity. It is a fact of life of online existence and it would behoove us all to understand it. To not and continue using it as a rhetorical baseball bat instead of scalpel would be as fair as me using the term journalists so generally as to cover both Seymour Hersh and Jayson Blair. It is neither fair nor accurate - terms I'm sure Edelstein and his fellow print jockeys treasure.

But it is fair game. And due to Andre's sin, all the careful work of the past years trying to bridge this gap of understanding may unravel. Andre credits few but now his actions have tarred many.

And of course the act of one stray in the herd leads others to the trough of self-loathing.

Juliana Illiari of Blog For Democracy:
"I don't think anyone who blogs believes there are standards and practices right now. You'd have a hard time finding anyone who could agree. It's basically, use at your own risk this information, by virtue of its very nature. Anyone can get them, they're free. You read it and you have to consider what the opinion is"
Love ya, Jules, but that isn't quite right. True, the blogosphere is the free market of ideas gone wild and you will never see me shy away from telling people to obey caveat emptor. However, there are some rules that anyone who dares use the word "publish" with their work should follow. They are plain common sense and we all know them.

Two words for all bloggers: Source and disclose.

Sourcing is the murkiest of waters for bloggers. By the very open nature of the online world, bloggers receive information as clear as press releases and as opaque as anonymous tips. It is up to each blog to determine its standards for publication. However, the further one goes down the dark hall of anonymity, the greater the risk becomes. Andre experienced this less than deadly sin earlier this year by publishing a story based purely on anonymous sources. The poorly sourced house of cards quickly fell apart and Andre issued, to my knowledge, the first open retraction in the history of the Georgia blogosphere.

Disclosure is much easier. If you wear a sock puppet don't pretend your arm magically turned into a talking creature. If you take money tell your readers. Sock puppetry is one of the deadly sins of the online world. Few recover crossing this hard line.

Given his rather public penance, Andre may have survived the first sin, but given the severity of the second, his credibility may never recover.

And thanks to his latest "contribution" to the our little world, we will all be required to work a little harder.

My own disclosure: I've never taken one penny of money from a campaign or anyone else. The closest money has ever come to my little world was a brief period where I consulted for Insider Advantage on strategies to approach bloggers. Something which I fully disclosed at the time.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Preview Quotes

Two quotes which will be relevant in the near future:
Look, I’m not blind to the yeoman’s work done by a handful of “citizen journalists.” But can anyone provide me examples of a major local story that was broken by a blogger — one with no previous journalistic experience? ~ATLMalcontent, March 15, 2009

It is up to each blog to determine its standards for publication. ~griftdrift, July 30, 2008
More soon.

The Best Of The Drifts - Senate Debate 2008


Originally published April 23, 2008

Outsiders In Athens

Sometimes, it is about who ain't there.

Although a resident of Athens, Democratic Party Chair Jane Kidd was not. Despite resigning his party post the previous day, former Vice Chair of Constituent Services Virgilio Perez-Pascoe was.

U.S. Senate candidates Dale Cardwell, Rand Knight and Josh Lanier were. Coy Vernon Jones and apparent Democratic Party of Georgia darling Jim Martin were not.

The "greasers" showed up for the rumble but the "socs" were nowhere to be seen.

Although the absence of the putative front runners was not the only topic at Wednesday's debate sponsored by the Young Democrats of UGA, the three attendee politicians took quite a few swipes at the big bucks boys as well as the party they are vying to represent.

Josh Lanier, whose campaign has been defined by campaign finance reform, pondered the possibility that Martin and Jones were too busy raising funds. Given, he said, a sitting Senator uses 1/3 of the day to raise money, the absent candidates were acting like "Saxby Chambliss with a blue tie".

Dale Cardwell was more blunt. He noted a study which showed 99.7% of the U.S. population does not contribute to political campaigns and said he believes Martin and Jones count on voters to choose the person they "dislike the least".

"Young" Rand Knight called forth the ghosts of elections past comparing the $330,000 Jim Martin raised in the first ten days of his campaign to an alledged $310,000 debt from his last campaign. He also noted Sonny Perdue beat Roy Barnes in 2002 despite an 8 to 1 money disadvantage.

When asked if all three would support any eventual Democratic nominee, Knight proclaimed "any Democrat is better than Saxby Chambliss". Cardwell levelled the harshest criticism of the night, openly alledging his belief Vernon Jones is being paid by the opposition to run. Cardwell flatly refused to support Jones but agreed he would support any of the other candidates. Lanier demured, reserving judgment, but agreed somewhat with Cardwell that everything he read supported allegations of Jones supporting Republicans in the past.

As the three insurgent candidates move on to future confrontations, they find themselves only two months away from the fateful primary day where voters will deterimine if they are Johnny slowly slipping away in a hospitial bed or Ponyboy surviving and striving to "stay gold".